We've all heard the Christmas song about figgy pudding. "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" demands, in ribald fashion, that it be brought "right here."
However, the desert, which is more frequently called "Christmas Pudding" is all but lost in 21st -Century America according to Dr. Rachel Snell of the The University of Maine.
"I think it becomes less prevalent in the U. S. because of the growing divide between English pudding and American pudding," said Snell, a lecturer in the University's Honor's College who adds, "plus there was the American fascination with cake in the late 19th Century."
She has taught such courses as "Food and the Shaping of the American Identity" as well as "Food, Femininity and Feminism in American Culture."
She notes that the heavy, liquor soaked, fat-filled pudding is more like what most Americans would think of as a thick bread.
One of its most interesting ingredients is suet, which we feed to birds, but the English ate as a source of calories. "For most of British history, finding enough calories to feed your family was an incredible task."
Dr. Snell has made an estimated eight figgy puddings. The first was done to augment her writing. She is amused by the reaction of family members and friends. The effort gave her incite into the importance of figgy or Christmas pudding on several levels.
"When you think about it, what a feat it was to carry this heavy pudding while it was on fire out to your family," she smiles.
She cites a passage in Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" in which the author describes Mrs. Cratchit's concern as she unmolded the desert and served the pudding.
Figgy or Christmas pudding is most often served with a hard sauce. Below is Dr. Snell's recipe for figgy or Christmas pudding.
Adapted by Rachel A. Snell from Nigella Lawson’s Ultimate Christmas Pudding and Mrs. Beeton’s Unrivaled Christmas Pudding
150 grams currants
150 grams raisins
150 grams prunes (roughly chopped)
4 oz sherry, rum, or port (optional)
100 grams white flour
125 grams breadcrumbs
150 grams suet (finely chopped or grated)
150 grams brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking powder
grated zest of 1 orange
3 large eggs
1 medium apple (peeled and shredded)
2 tablespoons honey
2 oz vodka
Equipment: 2-quart pudding mold or basin with a lid
1. Place the currants, raisins, and prunes to steep in the sherry, rum, or port at least overnight and for up to two weeks. This adds great flavor, however, one could also soak the fruit briefly in 4 oz hot water immediately before making the pudding.
2. When you are ready to make the pudding, place a large pot of water to boil or heat water in a steamer. Thoroughly grease your pudding container.
3. In a large bowl, combine the pudding ingredients (except the vodka) with the steeped fruits (be sure to include every drop!) and mix well.
4. Press the mixture into the pudding container and cover with the lid. Ensure that the container is watertight. If you are nervous about your container, a couple layers of aluminum foil are a good insurance policy.
5. Place the basin in the pot so that the boiling water comes halfway up the sides of the basin or in the top of a lidded steamer. Steam for 5 hours. Checking occasionally that the water has not boiled away.
6. Place your pudding in a cool, dry place until ready to serve. Once steamed, puddings will keep at room temperature about one month or can be frozen for up to a year.
7. Optional: douse your pudding with an ounce or so of brandy every few days. This will help develop the flavor and contribute to the spectacle of lighting the pudding on fire.
8. On the day you plan to serve your pudding, steam for an additional 3 hours following the directions in step 5.
9. To serve: unmold the pudding onto a plate. Heat the vodka in a small pan until heated but not bubbling. Pour the vodka on the pudding, light a match, and prepare for "Ohs and ahs!"
Serve with Hard Sauce (recipes follows). Leftover pudding may be kept in the fridge and reheated before serving.
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons butter (softened)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brandy, rum, or whiskey
1 tablespoon water
With a hand-held mixer, beat the butter. Add the sugar and mix until combined. Add the vanilla extract and brandy, rum, or whiskey. Mix. Add water, if necessary, to reach the desired consistency.